LeLe Park understands that success requires sacrifice. More often than not that sacrifice is time. Whether it be diving into our own screenwriting, research, or studying the greats in order to improve our skill, time is the price we pay. It is often the hardest thing to sacrifice as it can take us away from our loved ones. But it's what is necessary to succeed. Having put in more hours myself than most, I can tell you that when I see LeLe Park, I see someone who has put the time in. I see someone who will succeed. Which is why I'm excited to introduce you to her.
This is LeLe Park…
The first blood relative I ever met, was my son -- on the day he was born…
From a small village orphanage in South Korea to Michigan suburbia, to Chicago downtown, I’ve come to believe that dreams will come true.
After high school, I enrolled at Columbia College Chicago (CCC). I studied screenwriting and managed to (somehow) get to Second City, as an assistant. I was lousy -- I had no idea what I was doing. Still, I’m grateful as the experience was refreshing and taught me to accept the realities of struggling to “break in”.
I then put a toe in the ocean of being a PA, working on commercial and indie projects. While doing that, I wrote my first feature film, “Think of England”. I wound up at a high-profile advertising conglomerate. While there, executives were willing to read my scripts, and routinely told me, “You don’t belong here, you should be doing this professionally”.
Fast-forward, I’m an Asian working mother of two small boys, a refugee volunteer, that girl at the karaoke bar, and a full-time employee at a digital ad agency. How could I provide quality life, while still trying to achieve my dream of being a screenwriter?
I made the decision to utilize every hour, every resource, and every minute (literally time in the bathroom and cab rides are incredibly productive for me!) When all is said and done, I get three-four hours sleep a night. I try to catch up once in a while – but it’s tough when there’s so much to do!
My dramatic television pilot, “The Bliss Killer”, and my short screenplay, ACHE have won various accolades and awards – they are my cars as I start this race!
Sometimes I feel like the Julia Child of screenwriting – I’m starting later than everyone else.
But, I’m excited to deliver gray perspective through effervescent storytelling! I am decisive in my attempts to create art that opens our psyche.
Throughout all this, I am proud to be a female, Asian-American in this field – part of the diverse color-wheel that propels equal opportunities and representation within both film and television. With my heritage in mind, I work to use grit and honesty as a method to boil us all down to the same connective tissue of humanity.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
I will never forget how I found screenwriting. I was watching “Terms Of Endearment”, and Shirley MacLaine was losing her mind saying, “Just give my daughter the shot!”. The next day at school, I told my friend Jennifer how upset I was that Debra Winger died. I couldn’t let it go! Finally, so annoyed, Jennifer shouted, “It’s recess! You keep talking about it! Go write your own movie the way you want it, and leave me alone!” I shouted back, “Writing a movie isn’t a job!” to which my teacher Mrs. Miller said, “Yes, it is”. I said, “Do you get money!?”, and she replied, “Of course!”. At that moment the clouds of heaven opened and gold light from angels descended upon me – or so it felt like.
Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
I became obsessed with studying “writers” in a variety of mediums! Henry David Thoreau, Garry Shandling (I still obsess over the Larry Sanders Show), Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Joss Whedon, Charles Dickens, Tina Fey, Jean-Paul Sartre, Aaron Sorkin, Oscar Wilde, Steven Zaillian… I knew I wanted to write film and TV. But then the idea to really do it came when I realized my obsession with these writers was me living vicariously through their achievements. I decided to go try for myself.
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Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
The first person who (seemingly) believed in me was this creative writing teacher from high school -- Chris Cronin. I have no idea where he is now. I was in his writing class and instead of making us regurgitate dull assignments… he had us dissect the lyrics to Stone Temple Pilots! And, Mr. Cronin was so tall and handsome! He was my teenage heart throb -- I’m certain that’s when I decided I needed the “Miracle Bra” by Victoria Secret! Anyway, I started writing in his class and repeatedly, Mr. Cronin would tell me how much he liked my writing style and talent. I am sure he said this to everyone – but at the time… it was my octane! To have the cool super-hot teacher say that he thought “I” may have a gift – it was legit!
Don’t get me wrong, my mom was always telling me I could do anything – but I never bought into it. I mean I was failing geometry. She was proven wrong by my very knowledge of reality. Still, my mom did support me being creative and didn’t push down-my-throat “the scary realities”. She didn’t cripple me with questions like, “what will you do for a real job?!”… Or at least if she did ask, I definitely wasn’t paying attention.
Q: When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
Probably the moment my elementary teacher Mrs. Miller confirmed that screenwriting the words actors say was indeed a job -- I’m still stunned!
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
Success for me personally is anytime I can have three nice things in a row happen. Like, maybe a showrunner on Twitter sends me a nice note, I place well in a screenwriting competition, and a director reaches out to say they’d like to get coffee to talk about my work. Any time a series of nice things happen – I’m throwing confetti in the air.
But in the long run, I won’t feel genuine screenwriting “success”, until the day I’m on a project with one of my heroes (eg. Bill Hader, Bong Joon-ho, Jordan Peele, Amy Pascal, The Russo Brothers, Scott Rudin, Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Joss Whedon, Sofia Coppola, Matthew Weiner, etc) . Of course, ask me again, in a few days and I’ll probably have lowered the bar back to, being able to tell my kid’s “mommy didn’t win, but she didn’t lose”
Q: Give us a typical day in your life:
Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl? Night Owl solidarity – All the way!
When do you get up? I get up at 7:13 am! It’s such a self-destructive time – I clearly have denial that I need to be somewhere. If I’m working from home, I get up at 8:27 am. Again such a troubling pattern of denial!
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? I bargain with myself, asking whether hitting snooze is justifiable
Do you have a morning routine or ritual? Yeah, I do! My morning ritual is my mental argument over whether I can sleep another five minutes. I eagerly check my email hoping a talent manager or any industry fellow has contacted me. Then, I hug my kiddos and hustle to get ready – all the while, I’m listening to Marvel movies! (some listen to music while on the treadmill, I listen to Marvel movies – they’re just so energizing with their constant sense of urgency).
I then squeeze in minutes with my kids before I take a cab to work. While in the cab I’m screenwriting the entire time. I then dash into work, doing my best not to seem exhausted. I’ll chug three pints of cold brew – and sometimes it works… sometimes it doesn’t.
What do you do during the day? I am currently still a member of “the day job initiative”, working at a digital ad agency. Truly, I have the most supportive boss. It’s such a healthy and enriching situation, to have at the helm of my Monday’s through Friday’s someone who enables me to be the best mom I can be, and encourages me to pursue my passions.
He told me as soon as I was hired, “Whatever it is you want to do, whether it’s here or elsewhere, I want to help you do it. I want to help you get there!” His support inspires me to take my role there seriously – because I’m so grateful! He’s so kind if I ever win a major award - - he’s getting thanked.
What do you do at lunch? During my lunch breaks, I sit at my desk screenwriting.
What do you do at night? From 9pm-4am, I’m screenwriting, editing, or researching. When I take five-minute breaks here and there – I clean the kitchen and living room, while running the dishwasher and laundry. I’m all about multi-tasking!
Do you have a pre-bed ritual? Yeah. It’s just me putting on a nerdy tee-shirt (Marvel or Star Wars), chugging black tea, and screenwriting until I can’t keep my eyes open – usually between 3:30am-5am.
Q: How do you define a successful day?
Any day where I’m preparing a home cooked meal for my friends and family to enjoy altogether, then in the quiet of the aftermath screenwriting in my Marvel tee-shirt, is brilliant.
Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?
Great question. Without a doubt, the most important skill I’ve developed in this process is compartmentalization. Being able to hear good and bad feedback, hear about other’s successes, hear about other’s failures, listen fully to the ongoing struggles of those more accomplished than myself – and still feel energized and excited to write! I’m easily intimidated, but not easily thrown off the tracks.
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
Oh, it’s a series of hurdles! But one is accepting that not all feedback (good or bad) is reasonable or useable. I had a reader say they hated a character and couldn’t connect. Literally, an hour later feedback from the second review came in and it raved about how much they loved that very same character -- and wanted to see more of them! But, it’s not a prêt-à-porter script! Feedback on a script is only useful if it improves the health of a project -- as a whole.
Q: What’s been the greatest reward in the choices you've made?
Okay, this question requires a bit. Screenwriting is a long process. Unless you’re doing documentaries, most of the screenwriting journey is selfish, egotistical, self-absorbed, passive-aggressive, and delusional. It’s facing our personal demons, for whatever reason on paper for the world to see. My friends listen to me get emotional when I read rejection letters, they listen to me get emotional about congratulatory letters. They celebrate every little victory (more so than I). They are my backbone! They’ve been delightfully tolerant and indulgent. It’s a reward to learn your friends are more than you knew – it's sun-warming.
On a more personal bit, having been an orphan and now, having two sons of my own -- Being able to achieve these screenwriting rewards and laurels and share it all with them so that they can see my historical evolution… it’s remarkably special to me.
Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers?
I want to hear about their future projects! So many of you will advance and build prolific projects, realized. It’s exciting to see where your creative endeavors will lead. I hope to learn from your journey and promote your projects.